Air Rights Building off the table

The CCCT and other stakeholders met with Councilmember Berliner on Dec. 1 to advocate for keeping the Trail in the Bethesda tunnel, reported at the CCT News and Events. The Planning Board sent its recommendations to the Council in a Nov. 30 letter. There have been some changes since the issues were reported in earlier blog posts here.

The Council T&E Committee is now expected to take the issue up in a January 30, 2012 meeting and not on Dec. 5. This is to give MTA enough time to evaluate the options and give the Council a report.

Tearing down the Air Rights Building is apparently no longer being considered. Discussions between Council and the Planning Board have “clarified” this to mean that they will evaluate building the Purple Line station under the parking structure at the east side of the Air Rights Building, where the tunnel is a little wider. This is clearly a change from the discussion at the Planning Board on Nov. 17, when the Commisioners were talking about tearing down the building itself.

The Bethesda tunnel at the east end

CCCT succeeded in getting Councilmember Berliner to request that a more substantive response to their single-track proposal be prepared by MTA. The Councilmember noted that MTA resistance to single-track is very strong and MTA will not likely yield on this issue, but a response that quantifies the impacts of single-track impacts on the transit operations is needed to put the issue to rest.

The Planning Board is recommending in its letter that $40M is an unacceptible price to pay to keep the Trail in the tunnel. The Town of Chevy Chase is already expressing concern that the options that would place the station platforms at the east end of the tunnel or at Pearl Street might be unacceptible to the Town because of the impacts of having platform operations adjacent to residences. I believe the MTA will report substantial reductions in predicted ridership and cost effectiveness of the Purple Line system if long walking distances are created for transit riders by moving the station platform east. I believe it is most likely a surface route for the Trail is the option that will survive the selection process at the County Council next month.

The Planning Board Nov. 30 letter recommends setting up a panel of agencies and the Town of Chevy Chase to evaluate design options for the Trail surface route, and lists design treatments that can be considered to make the route safer and more attractive. CCCT asked Councilmember Berliner to put the CCCT, WABA and other trail stakeholder groups on the panel. WABA and CCCT also advocated at the meeting with Councilmember Berliner that planners should give a trail bridge or tunnel serious consideration to avoid the at-grade Trail crossing at the Bethesda Avenue/Wisconsin Avenue intersection if the Trail is removed from the Bethesda tunnel.

The engineer in me is very doubtful that a successful trail bridge or tunnel across Wisconsin Avenue can fit into this area. The constraints imposed by the streets, existing major buildings, and elevation change from Woodmont Avenue to Wisconsin Avenue will force designs that are very unattractive to trail users, even if cost is no issue. But I’d be happy to be proven wrong on this – just show us the design concept that works. In the mean time, we should not buy into “Save the Trail” and other Purple Line opponents’ efforts to hype the danger of crossing Wisconsin Avenue to hysterical levels. Yes, any at-grade crossing of a busy highway should be avoided wherever an attractive trail bridge or underpass is possible for a regional trail like the CCT. But no, the trail network will not be destroyed if we must cross in a protected crosswalk at a well redesigned intersection.

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3 Responses to “Air Rights Building off the table”

  1. Cavan says:

    The at-grade crossing and trail along the side of Bethesda Avenue will sure be good for the businesses there…

  2. admin says:

    @ Cavan:

    I agree Bethesda businesses in the area will benefit overall if trail users are passing by along Bethesda Avenue, but JBG is not happy with this plan, see

    JBG is seeking to build a hotel at the north east corner of Woodmont and Bethesda Avenues, and their hotel driveway would have to cross the trail. Motorists pulling out onto Bethesda Avenue would have to deal with the heavy trail traffic coming from both sides, and also watch for motor vehicle traffic on Bethesda Ave. Motorists might feel they need to pull across the trail and block it so they can see the street traffic.

    I’m not sure what we can do to reduce this conflict, other than keep street furniture at bay and keep landscaping limited to low shrubs and grass in this area for good sight lines from the driveway, so motorists don’t feel they need to pull out and block the trail to see the street traffic.

  3. Ed says:

    I too believe it is unnecessary and way too expensive to put the bike trail through the tunnel next or above the purple line. It is perfectly safe, and good for local business, to run the trail up Bethesda Avenue across Wiscon and through Elm Street Park back to the trail. The trail is not a limited access highway. Rather it is good for trail users to stop and see the city as they go through it.